Sunday, 2 December 2007

Mencius 1.1

First paragraph of the first chapter of Mencius

Chinese text



Mencius had an audience with king Hui of Liang.

The king said: "Master, you did not mind travelling one thousand leagues to visit me. You must know how to enrich my state"

Mencius replied : "Prince, why must we speak of profit when it is all about kindness and justice. When a prince wonders how to enrich his state, his ministers will wonder how they can enrich their families, and gentlemen and the people will wonder how they can enrich themselves. From top to bottom, all will struggle for profit, and the state will be in danger. The lords of states of ten thousand chariots will be killed by the masters of one thousand chariots. The lords of states of one thousand chariots will be killed by the masters of one hundred.

Yet, having one thousand among ten thousand, or one hundred among one thousand, is no small thing. But when one lets justice come after profit, he is not content unless he seizes all.

There never was a kind person who abandonned his parents, there never was a just man who neglected his lord.

Let your majesty only talk about kindness and justice, there is no need to discuss profit."


Mencius (孟子 Mengzi (385-302 BC) ) was a philosopher during the Warring States era (480- 221 BC), a follower of Confucius.

Liang (梁) is another name for the state of Wei (魏), which was used to avoid confusion with the state of Wei (衛), and because its capital was in Daliang. It is one of the three states created when the state of Jin (晉) disappeared, in the fifth century. It extended over the modern province of Henan, and its capital was close to the modern city of Kaifeng.

According to Sima Qian, king Hui (惠) of Wei/Liang ruled from 370 to 335 BC. This meeting with Mencius is told in the Shiji, and would have happened (according to the Chronology of the Six States, chapter 15 in the Shiji) in 336 BC. Hui is the posthumous name of the king.

The opposition Mencius makes between profit (利) and kindness and justice (仁義) is typical of confucianists. The Warring States era is often described (by later authors, including the compilers of the Mencius) as a period of political cynicism, where everybody is only concerned by material profit (this is especially true in the three Jin). Mencius, here, is pictured working against the general current, like Confucius in his time, and proposing a system based upon higher values, like kindness and justice.

Measuring the strength of a state by the number of chariots it has is typical. Some commentators consider that the 10 000 chariot state represents the royal (Zhou) state, that 1000 chariot states are those of the feudal princes, and that 100 chariot states are those of smaller local lords. This passage can therefore be read as a metaphor for the political evolution of China since the end of the Springs and Autumns: feudal princes (of 1000 chariots) have taken over the Zhou kings, before being replaced by smaller princes. This image is quite fitting for the state of Wei, since its former princes had eliminated the rulers of Jin (a feudal prince) to take its territory, and then claimed royalty from the Zhou kings.


孟子 Meng4 Zi3 Mencius

見 jian4 : to see, to meet, often used when someone is given an audience by a ruler

梁惠王 Liang2 Hui4 Wang2 : King Hui of Liang
王 wang2 : King

孟子見梁惠王 Mencius had an audience with king Hui of Liang.

Classical chinese sentences are usually structured as Subject-Verb-Complement, this is the case here. The name of the king is also typical. In English, we would sayd King Hui of Liang, chinese write in the opposite order (Liang Hui King), from general to specific.

曰 yue1 : to say, also acts as a punctuation (open quotes)
王曰 The king said

叟 sou3 : Old man, term of respect, used as a second person pronoun to adress elderly persons, here Mencius, who was, according to tradition, 50 years at the time : you, sir,
不 bu4 : not
遠 yuan3 : far, to consider as far

In classical chinese, adjectives can be used as verbs, with the meaning "to be XXX", or "to hold as XXX"peuvent être utilisés comme verbes : 遠 = far, to be far, to consider as far, 善 good, to be good, to consider as good (like)

千 qian4 : one thousand
里 li3 : league (ancient measure of distance, about 500 metres)

不遠千里 not consider one thousand leagues as far

而 er2 : and, with a meaning of opposition, but, yet
來 lai2 : to come, to pay a visit

叟不遠千里而來 You, old man, have not considered one thousand leagues as far, and yet have come.

亦 yi4 : and, truly,
乎 hu1 : at the end of a sentence, interrogative particle

亦 ... 乎 rethorical question (truly ..., isn't it?)

將 jiang1 : marks the near future, or intent "going to"

有 you4 : there is
以 yi3 : introduces a complement of means (using/by...), here the complement (之) is omitted, "using which/whereby"

有以 = 有所以 there is that whereby
亦將有以 Surely, there is going to be (you are going to have) that whereby...

利 li4 : profit
吾 wu2 : I, me, mine, we, us, our, here my
國 guo2 : state

亦將有以利吾國乎 You certainly will have what would profit my state, won't you?

對 dui4 : reply
孟子對曰 : "Mencius replied", in direct discourse, chinese always uses 曰, one cannot write 孟子對 "... but 孟子對曰 Mencius replied, saying: "...

王 : used as a pronoun here: "you, your majesty"
何 he2 : why
必 bi4 : must, need
王何必曰利 : why must your majesty speak of profit

仁 ren2 :generosity, altruism, kindness
義 yi4 : righteousness, justice
而已 er2 yi3 : and that is all
矣 yi2 : indicates the end of a sentence and a change happening

亦有仁義而已矣 Truly there is kindness and justice, and that is all.

王 wang2 : king
大夫 dai4fu2 : ministers, high officials
士 shi4 : gentlemen, lower nobility
庶人 shu4 Ren2 : commoners

家 jia1 : house, family
身 shen1 : body, oneself

何以 how (using what)

王曰何以利吾國 The king says : "how to enrich my state"
大夫曰何以利吾家 The ministers say : "how to enrich my family"
士庶人曰何以利吾身 Gentlemen and commoners say : "how to enrich myself"

In classical chinese, discourses always go from general to specific and from cause to effect. In particular, some causality (if ... then...) is often assumed inside a long sentence. It is the case here.

If the king says : "how to enrich my state", then ministers say : "how to enrich my family", and then gentlemen and commoners say : "how to enrich myself".

上 shang4 : up
下 xia4 : down
上下 here refer to superior and inferior classes of society
交 jiao1 : together one another
征 zheng1 : dispute, vie
利 li4 : profit
而 er2 : and
國 guo2 : state
危 wei1 : danger
矣 yi3 : particle indicating the end of the sentence (and a change)
國危 : the state is in danger
國危矣 the state becomes in danger

上下交征利而國危矣 higher and lower classes will fight each other over profit, and the state will become endangered.

萬 wan4 : ten thousand
千 qian1 : one thousand
百 bai3 : one hundred

乘 cheng2 : team of horses, by ext. war chariots

之 zhi2 : "of" introduces a relative, in chinese, the determinant is put before what it determines(the order is opposite to english), for example

萬乘之國 a state of ten thousand chariots (chinese writes "a ten thousand chariot 's state")

弒 shi4 : assassinate, kill, specifically used for the killing of one's lord
其 qi2 : his, her, their (possessive third person)
君 jun1: lord

者 zhe3 : particle, makes a noun of what precedes ("he who", "that which")

弒其君 to kill one's lord
弒其君者 the one who kills his lord

萬乘之國 is here a location complement, "in countries of ten thousand chariots, the one who kills his lord...."

必 must, certainly

萬乘之國弒其君者必千乘之家 In countries of ten thousand chariots, he who kills his lord must be from a family of one thousand chariots.
千乘之國弒其君者必百乘之家 In countries of one thousand chariots, he who kills his lord must be from a family of one hundred chariots.

As before, some causal relation is probably assumed here:
The state will be endangered, (then) in countries of ten thousand chariots.... (and then) in countries of one thousand chariots...

取 qu1 : to take, to choose
焉 yan1 : contraction of 于之 : in this, among

為 wei2 : consider
多 duo1 : many

不為不多矣 not consider as not much
萬取千焉 in ten thousand, take one thousand in it : have one thousand out of ten
千取百焉 have one hundred out of a thousand
不為不多矣 one may not consider it is little.

茍 gou3 : but if
後 hou4 : after
先 xian1 : before
茍為後義而先利 But if one considers that justice comes after, and that profit comes first : if one puts profit in front of justice

奪 duo2 : to snatch, to steal
饜 yan4 : to satisfy, fullfill

不奪不饜 (so long) one has not snatched, one is not satisfied.

未 wei4 : not yet
未有 : there is not yet, there never was
遺 yi2 : forget, leave out
其 qi2 : his, her, their
親 qin1 : family, loved ones
也 yet3 : ends a sentence, and makes it predicative

有 X 也 there is X
未有 X 也 there never was X

仁而遺其親 be kind but leave out one's family
仁而遺其親者 a kind person who leaves out his family

未有仁而遺其親者也 There never was a kind person who neglected his family.
未有義而後其君者也 There never was a just person who considered his lord as less important ("put him back")

王亦曰仁義而已矣 Your majesty truly should speak of kindness and justice, and nothing more
何必曰利 why need we talk about profit.